Overall, I think this is one of my favorite stories that I've written. Granted, "Agency" doesn't have a lot of competition, as I don't write a lot of fiction, and I'm generally unhappy with 95% of everything I write. The comments I got were gratifying, though I was a bit disappointed that my little box wasn't clicked more. It seems like the less I like a story, the more votes it gets. I think I don't know my audience well enough, and the competition gets stiffer every time. I do think this story is probably worth a rewrite, though, so please post critiques, if you want.
Prior to the Sunday before the deadline, I had decided that I would forgo the WFC this round. The only idea I'd had was a time-loop of the death of a driver and a deer, with the consciousness reborn alternately into the man and the animal. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to write something without dialogue, and the concept seemed increasingly, well, stupid.
The Sunday before the deadline, though, in the Writing Chat that Kellnerin and ana host, I got the idea for "Agency." The first 10-minute prompt is always 5 random words to be used in a story or essay - one of the words was "agency." I had the idea to use the word not in the pop-psychology sense, and "Agency" grew from there.
I browsed amazon's Motivational Self-Help category, looking for as many buzz-words I could find for both Mickey King (name came from ana's spam box) and for Chad, who I wanted to come across as a true believer. I also used my own therapy experience, during which my therapist forced me to put my feelings in the standard sentence: "When ___ do/does ____, I feel [glad, mad, sad, or scared]." I found this exercise ridiculous.
I think the characters themselves worked for the most part (and I got some good feedback about the characters). I saw Chad as someone who really loved his boyfriend Henry, and who had invested a lot in their relationship, but who just couldn't put up with Henry's inertia and general laziness. Henry was, in general, a self-centered asshole. I feel comfortable writing self-centered assholes. I sometimes wonder what that says about me.
There were two real problems that I can see in the story. 1) Some of the dialogue was far too awkward. It should have been easy to read aloud, and the buzzwords needed to read smoothly. Editing would have taken care of this problem, and, for once, I actually had time to edit and I didn't. My bad.
2) At least one person complained that they didn't buy the ending, and I agree. It more or less comes out of nowhere (I seem to have that problem with endings). I needed to show Henry getting more and more annoyed, more twitchy, less willing to just sit their passively. He finally overcame his inertia, and I needed to show how he got there a bit better.
Also, he asked for the wrong thing from Mickey King. Henry was dying for a cigarette, and I know from experience that the craving will drive damn near everything else out of one's head - the last thing he'd be thinking about was his book. So here is my rewrite of the denoument:
"Oh, thank you for being here, Mr. King," Chad said. "My partner and I are really hoping this is the beginning of a new life of health and determination for us. When you discuss ways to become more deliberate in seeking our path to agency, I feel glad."
I rolled my eyes and compulsively opened and closed the tiny blade on my Swiss army knife. Mickey King beamed at Chad and then turned to me. "Should I sign the book to the both of you, then?" I shrugged. "Oh, come now," he continued. "The first step to agency is recognizing what you really, truly want, and taking steps to get it."
"What I want," I said, opening the blade again, "is a fucking cigarette. Do you think you can help me with that? My loving partner seems to think that talking to you is more important." I felt Chad shifting uncomfortably beside me.
"If you follow my course - and we'll practice these techniques in a few minutes - then you'll have what you truly desire. And I can assure you that you are trapped in your false desire for nicotine. Drugs impede the path to authentic self-fulfillment." He paused and licked his thin, dry lips. "Agency. That's what it's all about."
Agency. I took the flimsy knife from my pocket and drove it into the side of his neck, ripping raggedly through the skin and using my thumb to keep the knife from buckling. I pulled the blade along his carotid or jugular or whatever that vein or artery or whatever is. The blood spurted over my hand, and I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was even better than acid. So vibrant. So colorful. So warm. I stepped back lit a cigarette, carefully keeping the blood from soaking the tobacco. Mickey King's eyes were bulging and blood gurgled from his mouth and dripped off his chin. I turned to Chad, blowing smoke in his face and grinning. "Agency. He's right, you know. I feel like a new man already."
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